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The globe artichoke, the most common variety of artichoke, is a perennial plant hailing from the thistle group of the sunflower family. You may have also seen it under the moniker green or French artichoke. Today, it’s found all over the world, though the number-one cultivator of the plant in the United States is California, which started growing the spiky-headed Cynara cardunculus in the 1800s. While not every vegetable can claim to have a heart, the globe artichoke can (and that’s the best part).
Where it’s from: Common lore has the globe artichoke originating in the Mediterranean, where it was found throughout Greek and Roman cuisine. As the legend goes, the artichoke first descended on Earth after a tryst between Zeus and a mortal woman named Cynara. In an effort to keep her close and continue their love, he made her a goddess, a role she accepted. However, after a while she started missing her family and went back to her village on the island of Zinari for a visit. The hot-headed god fumed and cast her to earth in the form of a flower, the beloved globe artichoke we know today.
That’s certainly one possibility, but true stories about the artichoke also sound somewhat fantastical. For example, the Artichoke Wars, which occurred in the 1920s and involved a monopoly on the artichoke market. That’s right, a New York City gangster named Ciro Terranova, dubbed the “Artichoke King,” took control of all of these California-grown thistles, shipped them to New York and sold them for a 40-percent markup. Eventually, the mayor of NYC stepped in and made artichokes illegal. True, that ban only lasted one week, but it was enough time to put Tarranova in his place and make the vegetable assessable to all.
When it’s in season: You can find artichokes in the markets starting in March and going until May.
What to look for: When shopping for a prime specimen of artichoke, look for a vibrant green one that will “talk back” when you squeeze the leaves. The more defined the squeak, the fresher the vegetable. Also, like most produce, avoid any that are blemished or have torn or yellowed leaves.
How to store it: You can store a fresh artichoke in the refrigerator for about a week, but if you want to freeze it, it’s best to steam it first — consult our handy guide! Add a little bit of lemon juice to the final product to help keep the color, lest you end up with a gray veggie.
How to prepare it: Keep in mind that the part of the artichoke we eat is the bud of the plant, or what would be the flower if it were allowed to bloom. “My all-time favorite way to eat artichokes is the simplest, steamed whole until the leaves pull away easily,” says chef Annie Pettry of Decca in Louisville, Kentucky. “I savor them slowly, petal-by-petal, each one dipped into a creamy lemon aioli, until I make it to the best part, the heart of it all.” To prepare the thistle for proper eating the chef says you have to clean it first by cutting off about an inch on each end, and peeling away the first few layers of leaves. Next, use a paring knife to cut off the dark green edges, leaving only the lighter ones and the stem. Then, if you are grilling it or taking it apart to add to a dish, cut the vegetable in half, scoop the fine hairs from the center and let it rest in an ice-water bath with lemon juice until you are ready to work with it.
This post is brought to you by our friends at Whole Foods Market